French foreign policy has to be reconsidered

In the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks, French president Francois Hollande decided to intensify the French military operations to a level politically and financially unbearable in the long term.

Hollande started a “diplomatic marathon” in order to establish a broad international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The level of his diplomatic efforts have thus far been very visible, having already held talks with Cameron in Paris on November 23, travelled to Washington on November 24 and met Angela Merkel, Mateo Renzi and Vladimir Putin on November 25 and 26.

However, the main question the French decision-makers should ask themselves before embarking on such large-scale military action is what their long-term interests and objectives are, only when this is done can they realistically consider any form of military option. In fact, if the military option is indeed determined as key to the state’s reaction to recent events, it must be as part of the state’s foreign policy as a whole. Even if the use of force does address key preliminary goals these objectives would be short-term at best. Hence, under no circumstances, can any military action replace a coherent and long-term foreign policy. 

However, it is clear that the French president's project of a unique international coalition against ISIS, including Russia, is not that relevant to French interests as a whole for several fundamental reasons.

First of all, this coalition’s heterogeneity implies that it will be based on the lowest common denominator of Member States interests and thus will never be able to tackle the root causes of the emergence and the development of ISIS and international terrorism in general. However, there is substantial risk that this coalition worsens the situation in the Middle East and increases the areas collective revulsion with the West. Furthermore, if an alliance with Russia remains attractive for France, this rapprochement will be possible only at the price of concessions with regards to the Syria’s political future and more especially the future of its current leader, Bachar al- Assad. France seems to be inclined to accept such diplomatic move if one believes the last statements of his Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, who admitted last week the possibility of a future alliance with the regime forces to strike ISIS. The French government has reaffirmed its uncompromising position against a Syria’s political future including Bachar al-Assad, but the Franco-Russian rapprochement is an increasingly visible reality. Indeed, Putin has been recognized as “someone with whom we can work” by François Hollande and, in the wake of their meeting last Thursday, the two heads of state have announced in a joint statement their willingness to coordinate their strikes against ISIS.

Secondly, this project is unconstructive due to the importance of the Franco-American relationship for Paris. In fact, François Hollande requested from Obama, during their meeting last week, access to American intelligence gathering capabilities in Syria and Iraq. Paris especially needs such localised information about terrorist threats directed against France and satellite and aerial imagery of Iraq and Syria to conduct its strikes. There is no doubt that a deeper cooperation with Russia will leave France in the same situation it was in 2010 when its application to enter the “Five Eyes” group, an intelligence alliance comprising the United States, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand, was declined. Especially given the fact that France is committed to provide Russia the moderate rebels location while the focus of Russian air strikes on moderate fighters has been so far the main criticism expressed by the West against Moscow. Furthermore, because of the downing of a Russian jet by Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters and the subsequent escalation of tensions between the two countries, a French-Russian rapprochement may seriously complicate the relationship between Paris and Ankara at a time when France and the rest of the European Union need Turkey more than ever as a cooperative partner, particularly on the refugees issue. Thus the relationship between the European Union and Turkey, irrespective of an agreement reached just this Sunday, remains very fragile. Besides, beyond the actual issues, France should consider whether a coalition with Russia is really worth the geopolitical risk should it cause Turkey to fundamentally rethink its relationship and future cooperation with the European Union.

Finally, regarding the situation in Ukraine, closer links between Paris and Moscow will clearly have implications in regards to the European solidarity and especially with the eastern Member States, whereas the European fragmentation has never been so deep and the need for unity so urgent. Additionally, moves towards greater European integration have been the main French foreign policy objective since the cold war’s end. Indeed, has François Hollande not paradoxically invoked the Lisbon Treaty’s mutual assistance clause (Article 42.7) as a symbol of his attachment to a real Common Security and Defence Policy?

In conclusion, French decision-makers should carefully reconsider the basics of their foreign policy before embarking on a simple quest for revenge. This stage of reflection is certainly less “marketing” but essential whether France wants to avoid making the same mistake as the United States in Iraq, wrongly believing that it is possible to implement a simple solution to a very complex reality.

The disappearance of the USSR led to the end of the nuclear relevance as well as a significant increase in the number of non-state actors and asymmetrical crisis. In the same time, France faces a shrinking military budget as an effect of the financial crisis and thus does not have the capabilities to carry out military operations alone anymore. As a consequence maybe the time of French “strategic autonomy” and opportunism is over and the time has now arrived for France to choose their allies with greater caution and do so according to long-term interests.



#blog #France #Francie #foreign policy #zahraniční politika #ISIS

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